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Super Bowl Scoop: Covering America’s Greatest Spectacle from the beat writers who’ve been there

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Super Bowl Scoop: Covering America’s Greatest Spectacle from the beat writers who’ve been there

NFL senior director of event operations Eric Finkelstein takes questions from the media during a Super Bowl photo and interview opportunity inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta during preparation for the game on Jan. 22.

NFL senior director of event operations Eric Finkelstein takes questions from the media during a Super Bowl photo and interview opportunity inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta during preparation for the game on Jan. 22.

Curtis Compton | TNS

NFL senior director of event operations Eric Finkelstein takes questions from the media during a Super Bowl photo and interview opportunity inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta during preparation for the game on Jan. 22.

Curtis Compton | TNS

Curtis Compton | TNS

NFL senior director of event operations Eric Finkelstein takes questions from the media during a Super Bowl photo and interview opportunity inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta during preparation for the game on Jan. 22.

By Ben Bobeck, For The Pitt News

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Before last year’s Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, Martin Frank, Eagles beat writer for The News Journal, was interviewing Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
According to Frank, Jeffrey, who can usually be soft-spoken and hard to understand, was sitting at a table around a few media personnel when he said, “I guarantee a win.”

“I wasn’t sure what he said, so I asked him, ‘Did you just say you guaranteed a win?’” Frank said. “And he looked at me and said something like, ‘Damn straight.’”

Insight like this is common for professional football beat writers, who spend all season ingratiating themselves with the players, coaches and executives and serving as a constant link between a team and its fans. Though few ever get to cover the Super Bowl, it’s a lot more work than just hitting the send button on a few tweets for those who do.

Even though it is a long season, covering their first Super Bowl is almost as memorable for the reporters as it is for the players. At least, that is the case for Ben Volin, current New England Patriots beat writer for The Boston Globe.

“You never forget your first,” Volin said. “For me, that was the Saints beating the Colts down in Miami.”

This year, Volin will cover Super Bowl LIII when the Patriots take on the Rams this Sunday.

For these writers, their job is year-long, even during the athletic offseason. They cover staff changes among the coaches and in the front office, which players the team is pursuing in free agency or the first-year player draft and how the team seems like it will improve — or not — from one season to the next.

They develop a rhythm, a routine throughout the year as they work each press conference and every game. But all of their practiced procedure goes out the window when the Super Bowl rolls around and press conferences are crashed by national reporters and the entire NFL media circus.

But the excitement makes it all worth it for Volin.

“I’ve seen some incredible games,” Volin said. “The Patriots’ comeback over the Falcons, Malcolm Butler’s interception against the Seahawks, the Eagles’ incredible win over the Patriots last year, Peyton Manning’s last game, a down-to-the-wire Ravens win over the 49ers and Seattle’s Legion of Boom absolutely destroying the Broncos.”

Even though they get to watch the game, they are still there on business. But these are professionals, reporters experienced in handling the nuances and drawbacks of Super Bowl week.

“You have to fight for position at the podium in order to get your interviews,” D. Orlando Ledbetter, Falcons beat reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said. “It’s a massive undertaking that ends up being a rugby scrum at times.”

The experience for beat writers who have covered the teams all season is also a downfall, in Frank’s opinion.

“The worst part about covering a Super Bowl is the amount of reporters from around the country asking questions that the beat writers have covered all season,” Frank said. “There also isn’t time for one-on-one interviews with players like you might get during the course of the season.”

Before the Super Bowl, the NFL holds a Media Day where players and coaches are available for interviews. Once they have survived the ferocious battle for prime position, a new challenge awaits — cracking the shells of coaches and players who are not always there to help.

“Bill [Belichick] can be a challenge, because you never quite know if he’s going to cooperate or not,” Volin said. “When he does cooperate, there are few people better. He is sarcastic, witty and incredibly knowledgeable … Brady is pretty guarded and apolitical at this point, but he will give you some good answers and once in awhile you can grab him for a question or two at his locker.”

Over the years, Media Day has gained a reputation for being notoriously chaotic, and for the beat writers accustomed to having their questions answered promptly and thoughtfully each week, it means an adjustment.

The NFL scheduled the media conference for Monday, Jan 28, at 7 p.m. this year. For print journalists, it was just another obstacle toward a tighter deadline.

According to Ledbetter, there are also different restrictions for beat writers leading up to the game. One in particular stands out — beat writers aren’t allowed to attend practices. That means they have to rely on the Pro Football Writer of America pool reporters for any news from practice.

According to the the Pro Football Writers of America website, they are “the official voice of pro football writers, promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams daily.”

Even though they don’t always know what is going on at practice, the writers still have to be ready with unique stories no one else will be writing about. When it comes to the actual game this Sunday, Volin already has some ideas on what he may write about.

“Sean McVay’s age, will Brady ever retire and the Patriots’ incredible dynasty,” he said.

Ledbetter, meanwhile, believes the refs will get a lot of attention in the reporter’s stories after numerous missed calls this season and the blatantly missed pass interference in the Saints versus Rams NFC Championship game.

But they know anything can happen, like at Super Bowl LI, when the Falcons blew a 25-point lead to give the Patriots the 34-28 win. That game is Ledbetter’s most memorable moment covering a Super Bowl.

“Tearing up my story about the Falcons winning the Super Bowl and writing the one about them losing the Super Bowl in horrific fashion,” Ledbetter said. “What a wonderful day.”

However, not even their own understanding of the unpredictability of the sport’s biggest game will stop them from offering predictions of their own.

Ledbetter predicts the Patriots will win and Tom Brady will ride off into the sunset, while Frank favors the Rams 32-27.

As for Volin, he’s picking the Patriots, but after last year’s game knows nothing is certain.

“I’m a little worried,” Volin said. “Everyone is picking the Patriots, and I feel we might be overlooking the Rams the way we overlooked the Eagles last year. But the Patriots’ offensive line has been dynamite and I think they’ll continue to run the ball and control the clock and pound out the win.”

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Super Bowl Scoop: Covering America’s Greatest Spectacle from the beat writers who’ve been there